Thursday, February 26, 2009

Confession Wed . . . um . . . Thursday: What do you do?

What do you do when you’re in a public place, and you see a parent maliciously berating a child?

I’m not talking about the exasperated parents who, after the 26th time, say “Put the cookies back on the shelf!” a little sharply. I’m talking about the lady I saw in Winco the other day, who bumped into a man with her cart, and laughed and smiled and apologized. Then, when she was bumped by her 10-ish daughter, she spun around and angrily told her how sick she was of her, and to go wait in the car. Then, for the next 60 seconds, everyone within two aisles heard her loudly telling her daughter that she was an $%&, over and over again.

Or the lady in Wal-Mart who, every time I passed her over a 15-minute span, was telling her daughter that, “I’ve had enough of you,” and “I’m so sick of you,” and “What’s wrong with you?”

I know we all get frustrated with our kids on a regular basis, but no mother has the right to rip a child’s emotional well-being from the one place it should be safe, and beat it to pieces like that. Every time I see it happen, it leaves me physically ill and wondering if I could talk the beast of a mother into giving me her child, whose upbringing, heaven knows, would be a major undertaking after a beginning like that, but who would never again be told she was worthless.

If I knew what to say to those mothers, I believe I could find the courage to say it. I always worry, though, that anything I say will come back on the child after I walk away, as in, “NOW look what you’ve done!”

Somebody told me recently about a mother who had a severely autistic child. If anybody gave her dirty looks while the child was acting out in public, the mother would quietly hand the stranger a business card with a message informing them of the child’s condition. I think it’s brilliant!

Maybe something like: “No, YOU’RE an $%&!”

Or not.

If you printed a card for such a situation, what would it say?

If you were to speak up, what would you say?

Or have you spoken up? And what did you say?


Mandi said...

Ya know, the way I see this is the same as when I used to work customer service. I thought I was a really friendly/helpful person when I worked, but occasionally my impatience would get the worst of me and I'd be downright rude. A couple people told me over the years just what they thought of how impatient I was being, and it slapped me right back to reality. At first I was blazing mad but I couldn't deny that I had not acted my best.
I think it's the same as moms; I'd be so mad if someone in the store told me I wasn't handling something well, but then don't most moms look for truth in the comment and try to fix it after they calm down? Hmm. Maybe my card would read:
"You've got a problem with verbal abuse, and you need to fix it, lady."

Oh and also, don't we usually try to act our best in public? Yeesh. What's going on at home then?

Laura said...

I have real issues with this sort of thing. Part of it is probably because I have no children, but it makes me furious every time I see it. I think if I was going to say anything (which I might if it made me mad enough - I'm getting better and better at speaking my mind) would be something to the effect that it wasn't appropriate to speak to your children that way. It would make whoever I said it to mad, probably, but you know. I probably would have been so mad when I said it that I wouldn't care.

Usually when I encounter something like this, it's at work and I can call a social worker, because they are good at having discussions without upsetting people.

Although, once at work I had to have an extensive conversation with a parent about how her and her child's behavior were inappropriate and needed to change. I think I finished the conversation drenched in sweat. . . but it went okay.

Holy cow this comment is long.

Anonymous said...

As a child, this happened to me. A Lot. It was rare that anyone said anything- in fact, usually my mom got sympathetic looks from people who assumed she was having a bad day. When people did say things, I got a lot of "look what you did now!" but I also got the reassurance that my mom was WRONG to say those things to me. Reassurances like that were what kept me going.

Tana said...

I remember my mom going up to a lady in the grocery store and telling her to grow up. I thought it was embarrassing at the time but now, I don't know if I would have the courage to do it.

Jerilyn said...

I don't think I've ever said something, but my daughter, Grace, has spoken up plenty. She usually says, "Hey, we can hear what you're saying to your kid and it's not very nice." At which point, the offending parent turns her rage to me and tells me I need to control my child. Yay!

Shar said...

I think we have a moral responsibility to speak up on behalf of children. To let the offending parent know that it is not okay to berate your child, especially in public.

And I've called the police on some parents who have been awful to their kids in public.

Kids are defenseless against their parents. If we don't take their side, than who will?

Great, thought-provoking post!